Scenes from Spring Training: The Diamondbacks and Rockies are impossibly spoiled

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I am writing this in the press box of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (note: here’s an explanation for that name).  I’ve been here a little over three hours, and I still haven’t wrapped my brain around it all.

The complex sits on the far northeast side of town next to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. I had saved driving directions to the joint in my phone, but I needn’t have bothered because you can see it from the freeway, miles away.  “Just drive northeast out of Phoenix until you see it jutting out from the horizon” would have been specific enough.

Driving into the complex grounds, one is immediately reminded that it’s brand new.  There were workers planting decorative cacti along the driveway and bolting up signage around the park.  Inside, there were wet paint signs on the railings along the concourses and a man barked into his walkie talkie to underlings that some unidentified installation was not how it was supposed to be and that it better get fixed before fans started arriving.  But there was nothing frantic about any of it. One gets the distinct sense that this place was well-planned and will be shipshape and in Bristol fashion when the first game is played on Saturday.

The team facilities are large and impossibly well-appointed. The Diamonbacks’ headquarters are beyond the left field wall, the Rockies’ beyond the right.  With one exception, the facilities are mirror images of each other, each housing 85,000 square feet — yes, 85,000 square feet — of training, meeting, working, swimming, and loitering space.  The one exception: the Diamondbacks thought to put a media room in their building. The Rockies neglected that detail, much to the chagrin of the scribes covering the Rockies, but I suppose the media will survive.

When I got here this morning the Rockies’ clubhouse was closed so I went over to the Arizona side. You may remember that last year I was greeted warmly by some teams, not as warmly by others.  The Diamondbacks are off the scale on the warm side. Security guards may as well have been concierges. The Dbacks’ media relations people were so accommodating that I feel like I need to buy them thank you gifts.  They pointed me in the direction of the clubhouse and the training fields and off I went.

They probably need a new word to describe the place where the players dress, because “clubhouse” doesn’t do it justice. It’s more like an upscale lounge, with indirect lighting emanating from a glowing Dbacks logo in the ceiling, thick red carpeting and handsome wooden lockers. There are video boards displaying the day’s workout plan. Players lounged in comfortable arm chairs, playing cards, eating, reading or, in a couple of cases, sleeping, all in perfect luxury. Were it not for the telltale smell of smokeless tobacco you’d never know you were in a locker room.

I made some smalltalk with a few Diamondbacks players. All of them gave off a vibe that things are very, very different on this team than it was before. Maybe part of it was the new facility, but mostly it comes down to Kirk Gibson being in charge in camp for the first time. Each player I spoke with either used the word “professional” or strongly suggested it.  Gibson isn’t just a hard nosed guy. He and his high-profile coaching staff –Don Baylor, Matt Williams, Eric Young, Charles Nagy and Alan Trammell are all walking around — have these guys believing in themselves.

Is it a valid belief?  Well, I haven’t broken down their chances yet, but I assume not. Just not enough talent here yet to compete with the rest of the NL West over the long haul of the regular season.  But boy will they be comfortable during the short haul of spring training.

I’m heading out to the practice fields. It’s way too damn nice here to be cooped up in a press box.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.